My daughter Nell is a geek. This makes me happy. She’s also smarter than I am, which I find both awesome and frightening.
Tonight, since I got her new computer set up over the weekend, she asks if we can play Diablo 3 together. I say yes, “if Blizzard has fixed their logon issues.”
“Of course they have logon issues,” snorts Nell, age 12. “They were down for maintenance for 8 hours! And all the nerds in the world sat there with nothing better to do than refresh the logon screen for 8 hours.”
She is, of course, correct, if a bit judgmental. Blizzard has clearly underestimated the effect of pent-up demand on their login infrastructure, and it’s failing under the load of several million people trying to re-establish sessions.
I nod, agreeing with her, and then head to my computer.
Where I sit down and begin re-trying to log in to Diablo 3 several times, until I catch myself and realize that I am all the nerds in the world.
That the Knights are an Oakdale team is kind of odd, because Oakdale teams are usually major league teams – the other Oakdale teams in our league this year are the Cardinals, Twins, Red Sox and Yankees – and the Knights have been one of the Maplewood teams for as long as I have been coaching.
Most of our guys know one of the guys on the Knights, Ben. He pitched tonight, despite having forgotten his baseball gear in his locker at school. He wore his football jersey, which was the right shade of green, and had an extra pair of baseball pants, but didn’t have tall socks, cleats or a glove. Since he’s a lefty, he needs a right-handed glove, and we had no lefties at all on our team who could loan him a glove. He made do with a left-handed glove worn on his right hand, which he called his “lobster claw”.
The Knights are another team that’s mostly 6th-graders, like us last year. Like game 1, the guys came out swinging and scored a bunch of runs in the first inning. We sent 8 guys to the plate and scored 5 runs, then Lucas pitched a perfect inning to bring us back to the plate. Ben made quick work of our 9-10-11 hitters, and Lucas took the mound to record another perfect inning. We scored 6 more runs in the third inning, including a home run by Alex, and Lucas again didn’t allow a baserunner in the bottom of the inning.
In the 4th, we scored another 5 runs, including a monster home run to straightaway center by Anthony. Elijah came on in relief and walked the first batter he faced, but then we got a double play on a grounder to Alex playing second (tagged the runner and threw to Lucas at first for the second out), and Elijah struck out the next batter to end the inning.
We scored 3 more in the top of the 5th, including Alex’s second home run of the game. In the bottom of the inning, Elijah gave up a hit to Ben, who made it as far as 3rd base before the umpire called the game because of lighting.
Final score: Ironpigs 19, Knights 0
Season record: 2-0
For our first game of the season, we faced the Cardinals. We’ve seen some of these guys before – one of the players, Jake, was on our team a couple of years ago – but there were plenty of new faces. The Cardinals have a lot of 6th-graders, like we did last year, and as we saw last year, there’s a bit difference between 11-12 year old boys and 12-13 year old boys. I think our players averaged about 4 inches taller than the Cardinals.
We scored 7 runs in the top of the first inning and hit the 7-run limit, ending the inning with no outs. Every batter we sent to the plate got a hit or a walk, and once our guys got on base, they ran with abandon, since the A league fields feel tiny to them after playing middle school ball on regulation-size fields. The basepaths that Alex, Lucas, Luke, Marco, Anthony, Sam and Steven were playing on were 90 feet, and the A league is played with 75-foot basepaths.
As we were coming off the field, I heard the Cardinals coach trying to rally his guys, who were a little shell-shocked by the top of the inning, to “get the bats going.” Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they needed to do that against Alex. He proceeded to get three quick outs, two with strikeouts, and we scored 5 more runs in the top of the 2nd. Alex made short work of the Cardinals in the bottom of the 2nd, giving up a walk but getting two strikeouts and a nice fielding play by Steven on a soft liner to right.
We scored another 4 runs in the 3rd to make it 16-0, and then we really put the brakes on base-stealing. The Cardinals managed to shut down our bats so we didn’t score another run, but we didn’t need to. Marco and Luke finished the game, giving up a run each.
Final score: Ironpigs 16, Cardinals 2
Season record: 1-0
So last year was Alex’s first in the A League of MAA summer baseball (www.maplewoodbaseball.org), since he was in 6th grade. Last year, pretty much our whole team was 6th-graders – we had two guys in 7th grade, if I recall correctly. This year, the core of our team – once again the Maplewood Ironpigs – is in 7th grade, and spent the spring playing baseball together for Maplewood Middle School as the Mustangs.
That showed up in the pre-season jamboree. We played two games, each a one-hour exhibition. We won the first game 5-4 and lost the second by a lot, but we were playing our new guys to see where they would fit, so we weren’t really playing to win – we didn’t start Alex, and we had this year’s 6th-graders in the field pretty much every inning.
Our team looks really strong. I don’t know what the competition is going to be like, but I’m confident. We have great pitching, 3 excellent catchers, and excellent infield defense. We have a couple of younger guys who are still learning, but that’s part of the fun.
One of the things that happened to us last year was that we first got a taste of the amount of base-stealing in the A league in our first game, since the jamboree was rained out. I didn’t want that to happen to the young team we faced in the first game of this year’s jamboree, so I had the guys running, which rattled the pitcher, just as it did to our pitchers last year.
Better to happen in the jamboree than in a game that counts, say I. Welcome to the A league. It’s fun here.
Not a fun subject. Sorry. Also likely to ramble. If you were expecting funny, skip this one.
My brother has cancer, which sucks enormously. Dealing with this is hard – on me, on him, on our mom, on my wife and my kids… basically, dealing with death is something humans suck at.
My friend Laurie lost her mom three years ago. She was hit by a distracted driver. I think about that every time I get into the car, and I promise myself I will keep my attention on the road. That won’t bring Laurie’s mom back, of course, but it’s a little thing I can do to remember her and to try to make her death matter.
I don’t know how I can do that for my brother. I don’t know what I can do to try to deal with this.
In a way, I’m lucky – Laurie didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her mom. We’re all in this world for a limited time, and very few of us get to see our deaths coming. That doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t feel lucky. I just feel sad, and cheated of what I was going to get, and fearful of what a world without my brother will be like.
He’s smart, and he’s funny, and he’s talented, and I love him very much. He’s got the most wicked sense of humor, and he’s an incredibly talented musician, and the world will be so much smaller without him in it.
I talked to my minister today – Victoria Safford at White Bear UU. She’s an incredible speaker, and a really genuinely empathetic person, and it was really good to get a chance to talk to someone that I wasn’t trying to take care of. It’s odd at this stage in my life that I have a minister, and that I have a church. I hadn’t expected to have those things, or to need them, but I am very glad that I have them in my life. Victoria suggested that I take some time every day to get in touch with my grief, because it will be with me forever. I’m going to have to learn to live with it. And to live without my brother.
I don’t know how long we have left. I hope it’s a long while. I fear it’s not. I try not to show that fear, because I want my brother to to keep his spirits up, and to enjoy the time he has. I try not to let my grief overwhelm me, because then I’m no good to anyone. So I stay busy – which is not to say productive, because when you’re trying to avoid something, you do whatever is in front of you, because thinking about what to do can lead to thinking about the exact things you’re trying to avoid thinking about. Sigh.
I love you, Mike. Stick around a while, okay? I’m not done with you yet. There’s nobody else that really gets my jokes.
I spent last Friday not gaming, but going to see Thomas Dolby at the Cedar.
Was it worth giving up gaming night? Yes, for two reasons.
First, it was a really good show.
The opening act, bluegrass duo Aaron Jonah Lewis and Ben Belcher, played with considerable skill and a lot of heart, and gave me my favorite moment of the evening. If you have not heard Timing X on fiddle and banjo, you have not truly heard Timing X, even if you’ve heard Devo play it live, which I have. Dolby’s drummer (whose name I cannot recall, which is a shame, because he was excellent) snuck in behind the duo to provide drum accompaniment, which made it even more awesome.
Grade: A. One of the best opening acts I have seen. Paul and Storm are the other contender for “best opener ever.”
Dolby himself put on a great show. As in his Sole Inhabitant tour (which I did not get to see, but have seen video from), one some tracks he built the base of the song in layers, before kicking in along with his guitarist and drummer. Whose names, again, I cannot recall, which annoys me. Be better at being searchable, Internet!
Dolby’s son Graham Robertson (because Thomas Dolby is actually Thomas Robertson when he’s not on stage, as I understand) took over the drums for a couple of songs, which was very cool. It must be very strange and very cool to be a kid (born 1995, Graham must be 16 or 17) playing music with your dad, who originally recorded this song well before you were born. I know Alex sometimes has difficulty understanding that I was ever anyone but “Dad” and the idea of me as a teenager is just weird to him.
The music was excellent, the band was having fun and it was great to see the Cedar packed and Dolby selling out a venue.
Second, I got to spend the night hanging out with my brother Mike, which is a really high priority for me right now.
So yeah, totally worth it. Sorry, D&D gang. I love you all, but my brother wins. And come on, Thomas Dolby. You should have been there.
Time to get my geek on.
In our long-running 4th Edition D&D game, the party hit 11th level, and thus needed to choose paragon paths. Most of them found something suitable, but Thorin Durthak, the dwarven fighter (played by my old friend Brandt) just wasn’t finding anything particularly interesting.
So we decided to make something up ourselves. How hard can it be?
Paragon paths start with three game effects:
- a path feature that affects gameplay in a persistent way (a feat, more or less)
- an encounter attack power
- an effect that happens when you spend an action point.
The paragon path we decided to invent is the Dwarven Brewmaster, in tribute to the many bad and good beers we’ve consumed during our sessions.
We took advantage of a session where we only had a couple of people available to start with a Vision Quest; Thorin, accompanied by two of his friends, spent a night in a hill giant bar, where he defended the honor of a hill giant maiden from the lord by challenging the lord to a drinking contest. His friends kept the lord’s minions and “hound” at bay with their wits and skills.
“Finish your drinks, boys, for it’s into the gates of Hell we’re headed next. Bottoms up!”
Brewing beer has been part of Dwarven culture since time immemorial. The earliest recipes are primitive by modern standards, including only hops, barley and water. Dwarven ingenuity has led to many different methods of brewing, involving complex apparatus, as well as ever-more-innovative means of storing and transporting beer to preserve its flavor.
Brewmasters are regarded with awe and some degree of fear by the rest of Dwarven society. Their experimentation with new frontiers in the brewing arts can sometimes result in unfortunate side effects, and they tend to be drunk most of the time. The constant drinking makes the Brewmaster resistant to many kinds of effects, and the various exotic brews can have powerful effects.
Refilling Action – when you spend an action point, you may roll a d20 and consult the following table.
1-5 No effect
6-15 Gain an additional use of any one Encounter power you possess
16-19 Gain an additional use of any one Daily power you possess
20 Gain an additional use of any one Daily power you possess and a temporary action point
Half in the Bag – you gain +5 to saving throws against being Dazed, Dominated or Stunned.
Dwarven Brewmaster Attack 11
Encounter – Standard Action
Close Blast 3
Target: Each creature in blast
Attack: Constitution vs. Fort
Hit: Con modifier acid damage, and the target takes Con modifier ongoing acid damage (save ends), and the target must save or be knocked prone.
Bill “Phosphorous” Sears passed away today. I never got the chance to meet him, but his art graced a number of games I worked on, and I’m going to miss him.
About 10 years ago, my friends Rich and Iikka started making games as Digital Eel. They make games with style and a touch of insanity. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work on almost all of their games as a tester, starting in early beta stages, often before much of the game is fleshed out – there’s an engine there, but gameplay may be wildly unbalanced, the UI is still in flux, missions or levels are really limited. That sounds kind of painful, but I assure you, it’s fun.
Partly because Digital Eel makes games that are enjoyable to play, and that’s evident even in early half-finished versions. But mostly it’s fun because I get to have opinions about gameplay, storyline and the like, and those sometimes make it into the game. Nothing like seeing your requirements in the finished product to make you feel a sense of ownership.
There’s a fairly small group of guys (people, but they are in fact all guys) who have been beta testing Digital Eel games. Early, Rich started calling us the Fearless Testers – that’s even the label he put on us for the credits. My friend John Slade and I decided to unionize, in the event that a dispute ever broke out, to give ourselves collective bargain leverage. Or something. We might have been drinking at the time. So we dubbed ourselves “Fearless Testers Union, local 256,” a number chosen both to imply that we had a lot of people behind us, and because hey, powers of 2, we’re nerds.
Digital Eel is Rich and Iikka, but it’s also Phos. His brain-melting art graces the box design for Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space, which is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s funny, and challenging, and beautiful, and profound, and I’ve played and replayed it dozens of times. His art and his sense of weirdness is all over Digital Eel’s games. I’m proud to have worked on games with him, and I’m sad that I won’t get to do so again.
Farewell, Phos. I hope its weirder than you imagined where you are, because it’s less weird around here without you.
Thinking about the season:
This is, as I noted earlier, the first year for the coaches and most of the team in the A league. We had three 7th-graders, but only one of them (Jake) played in the A league last year – Nate was in traveling ball and AJ didn’t play in 6th grade. Two years ago, when we moved up to the B league as the Mudcats, we had a tough season – it was the first year pitching for any of the guys, which added a whole new dimension to the game.
Our team was, on the average, younger than most of the teams we were facing, and I noticed a pretty significant correlation between the age of the team and their performance – not a sure thing, but if you were to bet on the older team to win, you’d probably win your bet in most MAA games. This is not surprising, given the amount of growing most boys are doing between the ages of 11 and 13, but I saw height disparities of something like 18 inches between the tallest and the shortest players.
We really only lost to three teams. We played a total of 18 games this season – 12 regular-season, 3 summerfest and 3 tournament.
In the regular season, we lost to 3 teams: Giants in the first game of the season, Nationals and Royals in the last two.
In Summerfest, we lost to the Royals in game 1 and the Red Sox in game 3 (we beat the Cardinals in game 2, the only time we saw them all season).
In the tournament, we beat the Giants (putting us 1-1 on the season with them) in game 1, then lost to the Red Sox (again) in game 2 and to the Royals (again) in game 3.
So, teams we lost to at all: Giants, Nationals, Red Sox, Royals. But we came back and evened up the season with the Giants at 1-1, meaning (as I see it), that we only lost to three teams: Nationals, Red Sox (twice) and Royals (three times).
For our last game of the season, we faced the Oakdale Royals. Again.
We faced these guys in the Summerfest tournament, where they beat us 11-2 in round 1 on the way to the championship. Then we saw them again in the last game of the regular season, where they beat us 21-1. They’ve been riding two really good pitchers in every game we’ve seen, and we saw them again this time around. Just like in the Summerfest tournament, their starter pitched three and came back to close it out, with their shortstop pitching the 4th, 5th and 6th. The two of them combined for a no-hitter. We got just two baserunners all game – Alex worked a walk to start the 3rd (batting in the 7th spot in the order this time), and Nate beat out a dropped third strike in the 5th. Both of them stole 2nd and 3rd, but we couldn’t get them across the plate.
As you might guess, since we didn’t score any runs, we didn’t win. Alex started and pitched well, giving up 6 runs in three innings (and yes, an 18.00 ERA for a single game is good against this team!). He started the 4th, but he was tired and not finding his release point, so Craig pulled him and put in Marco after Alex walked one of the Royals on 4 pitches, two of which were over the catcher’s head.
The guys played well in the field, but the Royals are great hitters, and kept hitting the line drives into the outfield. We missed a couple of plays and gave them some extra outs, and they didn’t return the favor. We stuck with it, though, and kept them to 8 runs, giving us our best showing against them defensively all year.
Final score: Royals 8, Ironpigs 0
Season record: 9-3, 6th place
Tournament record: 1-2, 4th place